Miniature loitering munition or suicide drone - United States
The Switchblade 300 is a miniature loitering munition or suicide drone developed and designed by the American company AeroVironment. It is a backpackable, rapidly deployable, loitering precision strike missile that can be used against beyond-line-of-sight (BLOS) targets, from either mobile positions in the field or from a fixed defensive position for base security. This miniature flying lethal missile can be operated manually or autonomously. Switchblade 300 provides the operator with real-time video and Cursor-on-Target GPS coordinates for information gathering, targeting, or feature/object recognition. The vehicle’s small size and quiet motor make it difficult to detect, recognize and track even at very close range. Switchblade 300 is fully scalable and can be launched from a variety of air, sea, and ground platforms. The Switchblade munition was conceived by the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) and developed by the U.S. Army to counter enemy ambushes in Afghanistan. On 29 July 2011, the U.S. Army awarded AeroVironment a $4.9 million contract for "rapid fielding" of an unspecified number of Switchblades to forces in Afghanistan. On 20 March 2012, the Army added $5.1 million, totaling $10 million. In May 2012, the United States Marine Corps began ordering Switchblades to allow troops to strike improvised explosive device (IED) emplacement teams and similar targets. In late 2012, 75 Switchblades were supplied to U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. On 28 August 2013, AeroVironment announced it had been awarded five contracts totaling $15.8 million to supply more Switchblade systems, ancillary equipment, and support to the U.S. Army. In March 2022, it was reported that the US has provided Switchblade drones to the Ukrainian armed forces following the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine. On 16 March 2022, the U.S. announced that 100 Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems has been provided to Ukraine as part of an $800 million military aid package. On April 26, 2023, AeroVironment announced the procurement of Switchblade 300 to France and another allied nation.
Switchblade loitering munition variants:
Switchblade 600 represents the next generation of extended-range loitering missiles, delivering unprecedented RSTA support and featuring high-precision optics, over 40 minutes of loitering endurance, and an anti-armor warhead for engaging larger, hardened targets at greater distances.
- Switchblade 300 Block 20: unveiled on March 28, 2023, it is the next-generation successor to the combat-proven Switchblade 300, providing the warfighter with a rapidly deployable precision strike missile for engaging beyond-line-of-sight (BLOS) with lethal effects. Building on AeroVironment’s family of loitering missile systems, Switchblade 300 Block 20 offers enhanced operational features including high-resolution EO/IR cameras, longer endurance and a touchscreen Fire Control System (FCS) allowing operators to easily train, plan and execute missions. This lightweight, miniature, precision loitering missile provides real-time video and Cursor-on-Target GPS coordinates, delivering the actionable intelligence and precision firepower needed to achieve mission success across multiple domains.
The Switchblade 300 is designed as an expendable UAV to increase precision firepower for platoon-sized infantry units. It has a length of 610 mm and weighs 2.7 kg including the carrying case and launcher, making it small and light enough for one soldier to carry. The name switchblade comes from the way the spring-loaded wings are folded up inside a tube and flip out once it gets airborne.
Switchblade 300 loitering munition with its container launcher unit
The Switchblade 300 is propelled by an electric engine, so its small size and silent flight make it extremely difficult to detect or try to intercept, enabling it to close in on a target at 157 km/h. It can fly about 10 km and loiter over a target for roughly 15 minutes. The engine is located at the rear of the fuselage and is fitted with a two-blade propeller.
|The Switchblade 300 is fitted with a warhead developed by the American company Northrop Grumman which has the size of a 40mm grenade. The warhead is specifically designed for controlled firepower to reduce collateral damage through a focused blast. It has a forward-firing shotgun-blast effect rather than a 360-degree blast, throwing pellets on the same vector that the missile itself is traveling. It can be fused to detonate at a predetermined height, which can be adjusted in-flight. When diving, the air vehicle gives the operator the opportunity to wave off until four seconds from impact. The warhead can be detonated in flight to destroy it.|
|The Switchblade 300 loitering munition is designed to attack military personnel or light combat vehicles. It is a single-use drone and carries cameras, guidance systems, and explosives to dive-bomb into its target. The drone uses a tablet-based touchscreen fire-control system with the option to pilot the loitering missile manually. The operator can also disengage or abort a mission at any time, and then recommit to another target depending on what the operator commands. This aims to ensure that strikes are precise and can be called off at the very last minute if they endanger civilians or properties nearby. Aside from use against ground targets, AeroVironment has written software to combine the Switchblade with sensors to be able to intercept hostile UAVs. The Switchblade is used alongside an existing counter-artillery radar and IED jamming system, all of which can be towed by Humvees. Interception of an enemy drone occurs in layers of defenses: if a drone gets through covering jet fighters or is too small to be targeted by them, it is picked up by the fire-finding radar. Once detected, the jammer performs electronic warfare to break its data link. If the drone resists EW, the Switchblade is launched to physically impact and destroy it. A Multi-Pack Launcher (MPL) was also developed carrying six Switchblade 300 munitions and having a fully-loaded weight of 73 kg. The design is scalable from 2 to 20 rounds and enables rapid reloading of fewer than 30 seconds per round. The MPL can be deployed on the ground or can be operated from a combat vehicle.|
A Multi-Pack Launcher (MPL) was also developed carrying six Switchblade 300 munitions.
|Miniature loitering munition also called suicide drone||Anti-personnel and light combat vehicles|
|France, Lithuania, Ukraine and the United States||2.5 kg|
|United States||15 min|
|Northrop Grumman advanced munition, an explosive charge equivalent to a 40mm grenade||10 km|
|1 operator||Length: 610 mm|
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